Taking it to the Streets

I love New York.

A few days ago I was walking in Soho down Broadway during lunch. The streets were packed with shoppers, and tourists and the atmosphere was almost carnival like.

In the space of one single block there were:

Two Hollister lifeguards” (shirtless, buff young men in orange shorts) standing in front of the store

One drag queen on a treadmill in the window of Ricky’s beauty supply shop

One person with a tray standing out sampling chicken sandwiches in front of Miro sandwich shop.

All of this activity causing consumers to pause, smile, and more than likely enter a few stores they might not have been planning on.

It made me wonder why in these somewhat dire times more brands aren’t going the extra mile to turn the retail shopping experience into well…an experience – and not just a transaction.

The trend towards retail as experience is nothing new. In fact it’s been in full force for a few years. Just duck into the M&M’s store in Times Square and you will see it in all its power and glory.

But lately it feels like a lot of retailers are pulling back from this. No doubt because the economy. But does it really cost that much more to deploy a few people street side (instead of having them hang around in an empty store)?


But I got to believe its worth it.

With the economy in a slump, online retailing so easy, and today’s stores full of “noise” around sales and “drastic reductions” – maybe it’s time to invest in some light-hearted, old-fashioned street entertainment.

Step right in folks and see the bearded lady….or the buff surfer…or the even buffer drag queen.

What have retailers really got to lose by spicing things up?

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
Are your favorite brands taking it to the streets?

The Art of Listening

Want to know the secret to a great interview (or any great meeting for that matter)?

It’s not the ability to dazzle with charm, intelligence and witty insights.

It’s not talking at all. It’s listening.

A friend of mine told me that not too long ago.

It was a bit hard for me to take this in at first because I actually pride myself on being pretty handy with a quick response. And like many of us, I am probably a bit too enamored with the sound of my own voice.

But in the spirit of the subject, and helped by a glass (or two) of extraordinary Chardonnay- I decided to put my skepticism aside and try to really hear what she was saying.

And as she talked more about it, I decided I believe her.

Partly because she is one of the best people I know at building client relationships and winning new business- so she has lots of credibility on the subject.

But also because the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense.

Listening, really listening to what someone else has to say, and not just biding your time til it’s your turn to speak…shows a lot of good qualities.

It shows respect, interest, restraint, thoughtfulness.

It makes the other person feel flattered and heard (two powerful emotional drivers).

But here’s the thing, listening is hard.

You have to work at it to be really good at it.

It seems there is so much focus these days on sharing, talking, blogging (mea culpa), communicating, networking etc. That we often overlook the important art of listening.

It’s something I’m trying to get better at, but it’s taking a fair amount of conscious effort.

So I’ve asked a few people for advice on being a better listener, and here are a few tips I’ve picked up:

– Force yourself to focus, put away the Blackberry
– Don’t take notes, it actually takes the focus away from the conversation
– Concentrate instead on being present, repeat out loud what you’ve just heard
– Pause after someone is finished speaking
– Resist the urge to rush in with a comment
– Thank the other person for sharing their view before you respond
– Don’t’ say “yeah, but”, instead may it a habit to respond with “yes,and…”

Active listening, if done right, encourages you to build on the idea that you just heard instead of tearing it down.

This will lead to better meetings, more successful interview, and stronger relationships.

Hard to debate the value of all that. Isn’t it?

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
How do you hone your listening skills?

Find Your Inspirational “Happy Place”

We all have a “Happy Place”.

I’m not talking about a location we just enjoy.

But a place where we really feel at home, and connected to our “true” selves.

A place where we are able to think clearly, remember what’s important to us, and get back in touch with what we really want and believe.

Mine is a house on a lake in Western Massachusetts that belongs to very close family friends.

Many of my happiest childhood memories involve family outings to this place.

I was lucky enough to spend some time there this past weekend.

Up early before anyone else on Saturday morning I sat looking over the still lake, and I felt rested in a way that I haven’t in a long time.

I didn’t realize how much I had been missing and needing this place, until I was back there.

While I am lucky enough to get back to this lake once a summer… I was thinking how can I harness the energy of this place when I need it on a more regular basis?

I started to think about other places where I felt this kind of peace that, for me, often leads to a renewal of creative energy.

I realized there were a few other more local places that gave me a similar feeling:

– the second floor of my local library overlooking the Hudson river
– the quiet car of the Amtrak Acela train along the coast to Boston
– the sanctuary of my synagogue

These places seem to be quite different from one another on the surface.

But when I thought about it they have a lot in common.

Many involve a view of water, all are relatively quiet, all involve reflection and an ability to be with other people but also be alone with my own thoughts at the same time.

By identifying these similarities and realizing I had more options than a scenic (but somewhat impractical) 3 and a half hour trip to Western Massachusetts, I immediately felt better.

The renewal I need to keep the creative juices flowing is here and accessible.

It’s just up to me to make the time and conscious effort to visit my local “Happy Places” more often.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
Where’s your “Happy Place”?

Go Out and Explore!

Too often we substitute the ease of exploration on the internet for actual experience. But it’s really not the same.

Maybe we’re too busy, maybe we’re lazy…but I think if you are really serious about innovation you’ve got to get out and experience the world.

A few years back I was working as part of a team of consultants on a re-positioning for a pet food brand.

We met with the clients, read the research decks, did our competitive scavenger hunt online.

But it was months into the project when I realized we had yet to come face to face with an actual dog or cat, or their human companions for that matter.

So we quickly turned that around. We went into pet stores and talked to people who worked there and people who shopped there.

We went to the famous “dog run” in Central Park and observed and interacted with pet owners and their offspring and got to see first hand the behaviors and rules of social interaction on “doggie play dates”.

We did an in-home interview with a puppy owner who calmly told us how she didn’t treat her dog like a human baby, but her body language revealed something all together different as she lovingly stroked her Cockapoo.

The reserach decks and internet gave us valuable information for the project. But the real world and person to person efforts gave us something that was much more valuable…insight.

A great team exploration activity that I’ve used successfully for both clients and internal audiences is a Brand Safari.

Here’s how it works: split the group into smaller teams, pick neighborhoods or landmarks, equip each with a map, a camera and a list of tasks or questions and then send them off into the real world.

Set a time limit so there’s a sense of urgency and healthy competition. Encourage interaction with real consumers at their destinations. Re-group when everyone comes back to the office and share what you’ve learned.

The best way to get insight into consumers and brands is to go out and experience the world – not the computer generated world- the real one.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
What inspirational places would be on your Brand Safari list?

Start Making Scents

Fragrance is one of the most powerful triggers of memory and emotion, yet it is largely under-leveraged as part of the creative process.

Whenever I smell vanilla or Cinnamon I think of Thanksgiving and watching my mom prepare her famous apple pies. Automatically I feel warm and secure.

When I smell fresh cut grass, I think of lazy summer days of my childhood and I feel like anything is possible.

Polo by Ralph Lauren reminds me of my student days and early crushes.

My list could go on and on, and I’m sure you would have lots of examples of your own to add.

So why is scent such a infrequent part of our efforts to create brands that connect on an emotional level?

Here’s an idea, next time you are planning a brainstorming don’t just include visual stimulus. Introduce some scents that are related to the benefits and emotions you are exploring.

Bring in scented candles, spices, food, iconic perfumes. Close your eyes, inhale and let the scents and emotions transport you to vivid associations…and perhaps new ideas.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What scents transport you?